A Suitable Man of the People

Contributor: Peter McMillan

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The Suit Shoppe was an institution. Generations of men and boys had been measured, fitted and suited there. Over the years, the store and its owners had figured in many newspaper accounts that promoted the business and the legend of the master tailors who fled their homeland.

Joe, the elder, and Harry, his son, created a phenomenal success story, and every four years, TV-savvy people came through to have their pictures taken with these immigrant entrepreneur stars. Between the papers and the parties and traditional word of mouth, advertising was free. Nevertheless, Harry, unlike his father and more like his great grandpa back home, was a showman as well as a tailor and businessman, and he believed in radio saturation.

Yet despite having the means and status to move uptown, Harry kept the neighborhood store opened by his grandpa. Since then, of course, the store had expanded horizontally and vertically—substantially in both cases—smoothly transitioned with the help of good friends in the right places.

Harry made a point of greeting and talking to everyone making them feel welcome, special, and, not incidentally, inclined to buy a suit or three. Harry never missed a day, though he wasn't always in the store. He had a multitude of obligations—weddings, funerals, christenings, communions, bar and bat mitzvahs, grand openings, opening ceremonies, and so on and so forth. Wherever a suit was called for, one was likely to be his.

At Trisha's wedding, I remember that Harry gushed over the appearance of the groom and his father, the three younger brothers, the best man, and the ushers. Ruth and I felt strangely pleased that Trisha was our daughter … and only child.

There wasn't a funeral in the neighborhood that Harry didn't attend. It didn't matter whether the deceased was the postman or a councilman, Harry went out of his way to express his condolences to the family. Instinctively, he would ruminate on how gratified the deceased would be to have such well-attired gentlemen in attendance.

Harry still lived in the old neighborhood, and we saw him now and again, always impeccably dressed in a fine suit, shopping or just visiting in the stores, going for walks with his dachshund, Tommy, or flying kites in the park with his grand kids. He was one of those fellows who always had time for people. And he was at home anywhere, stopping to chat with neighbors in their front yard or popping into a social club for a card game. He often gave his neighbors, the Wisniewski's, Father Francis' most faithful parishioners, a ride to church. Once he even took Harvey's cat in to be put down. Harvey, the store's longest-serving tailor going back to Harry's father, couldn't bear to do it.

In the neighborhood, there was a story—probably embellished over the years—about how Harry had long ago prevented a robbery. Two guys were holding up Mr. Kim's convenience store. Actually, I think it was before Mr. Kim—maybe it was Srini or O'Malley before him.. Anyway, Harry was in the store having personally delivered Mr. Kim's (or whoever's) new suit. When he saw the gun, Harry jumped right in. He told the older guy with the gun that he'd never get anywhere or amount to anything unless he learned to show more respect for himself by dressing better. And he added that he owed it to the kid to set a better example. Harry became the target, but just for a moment. Mr. Kim (or whoever) pulled out a baseball bat from under the counter and smashed the wrist holding the gun. Water sprayed all over Harry's suit. Luckily, it was a water pistol. Harry reportedly told the police that it was a good thing he was wearing a spectacular water-resistant suit—just arrived.

Harry is a fixture of my daily commute. Two-three times on the way in to the office and two-four more times on the way home, depending on traffic. Don't know what I'd do if I had to take the subway. Guess I'd have to poke those micro speakers into my brain so I could hear the radio properly. Here's Harry's latest radio ad. It's classic Harry.

"Five days and five days only at the airport convention center, we're having a fantastic—our largest ever—the city's most gigantic ever—suit sale. Six tractor trailers filled with an unbelievable collection of stunning suits—suits for every man, boy, and child—are arriving now, even as I speak. The selection is fabulous, the prices rock-bottom, and the quality—Harry's. But don't wait, 'cause even though there are thousands and thousands of beautiful suits—gorgeous suits—they're gonna go like hotcakes. They're gonna go like nobody's business."

Can't miss Harry's ads. They're on every station. And they're almost too easy to remember. Stopped at a red light, I sometimes catch myself keeping up with Harry.

I decided I'd better get out there—to the convention center. I needed a new dark suit, and I always got my suits from Harry. Fabulous selection and rock-bottom prices—trademark Harry. Quality? Well, occasionally an alteration or two was in order to make both sleeves 42 Long, but Harry had the best tailors in town and alterations never came to more than 10 percent. Besides, Harry was such a nice fellow. EVERYBODY said so.

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The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. He has published two anthologies of his reprinted stories: Flash! Fiction and Flash! Fiction 2.
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